At Home with Tech

Figure out which consumer tech you need, the right gear to buy and how to use your new gadgets.

Category: Technology

How to Fix your Ceiling Shot Problem during Zoom Meetings

Using a tabletop tripod to elevate your webcam shot is a great way to help your Zoom viewers experience you eye to eye.

It’s been over a year since the Zoom revolution took over so many parts of our lives. The good news is many of us have mastered the basics of video production while video conferencing from home. But there’s one mistake I see plenty of people still struggling with. To be fair, it’s not entirely their fault. Some blame has to be shared with laptop manufacturers who insist on putting webcams down at the bottom of the laptop screen.

The Evil Ceiling Shot
The resulting problem is your webcam pointing up at your face with the ceiling as the background. The shot is incredibly unflattering. Who wants their viewers staring at their chin or peering up their nostrils?

The fix is not an easy one. You’ve got to find a way to bring your webcam up to a more level position with your eyes. That will create the balanced visual you need.

Stacking a few hardcover books under your laptop can help. If you’ve got a standing desk, it’s time to raise it up all the way. Anything you can do to elevate your webcam will reduce the evil ceiling shot.

You also might want to consider investing in a little more gear to improve the Zoom experience for both you and your viewers.

Time to Buy a Tabletop Tripod
To move your shot high enough to make your webcam parallel with your eyes, you may need to invest in a standalone webcam. And then, most critically, you absolutely have to perch that webcam on a tabletop tripod.

A good tripod that can fit on your desk will be your unsung hero to help create a great video shot for your next Zoom.

The trick is making sure the mini tripod is tall enough to meet your eyes.

There are plenty of inexpensive tabletop tripods out there for webcams and portable LED lights. The problem is many of them are too short, only coming up a few inches. You really need a mini tripod that telescopes up 15 inches or more.

And you should also make sure you don’t choose a model that will take over your desk. It needs to be compact.

In looking to improve my own desk setup with a new tabletop tripod, I found these options to consider:

  • Lume Cube Desktop Light Stand
    30” max height
    $34.95 on Amazon
    The tallest option if you need it, but it’s also more expensive.
  • OrangeMonkie Tripod50
    19.7” max height
    $44.99 on Amazon Prime
    I love this little tripod. Even though it’s the most expensive of the group, it’s a great value. Unfortunately it’s overkill, made for heavier gear. The design will also take up more space on your desk.
  • Neewer Photography Mini Table Top Stands (2)
    20” max height
    $19.99 on Amazon Prime
    The price is right, but you can’t tilt the mount.
  • Ulanzi MT-16 Tripod
    15” max height
    $22.95 on Amazon Prime
    Just tall enough. Comes with a standard 1/4” screw mount and a GoPro mount.

Ulanzi MT-16
So, I ended up going with the Ulanzi MT-16 tripod. It’s great to support my portable Genaray Powerbank 96 Pocket LED light. It’s also a perfect choice to hold up my GoPro when using it as a webcam.

Yes, GoPros can be repurposed as webcams. To do that trick, you just need an HDMI-out to USB 3.0-in adapter. That interface will connect your GoPro’s video feed to your computer. (I use the Elgato Cam Link 4K.) Once attached, your GoPro is ready to live stream.

Elevate your Zoom Game
Remember, to create your best video shot for your next Zoom, you have to bring your webcam up high enough to meet your eyes. And stacking books under your laptop can only take you so far.

A separate webcam on a desktop tripod can really elevate your Zoom game. (The same goes for portable LED lights. You want your soft light source hitting your face at eye level.)

Using a little tripod will make a big difference!

The Real Reason to Buy an Ad in your Child’s School Yearbook

Does the first day of kindergarten seem like yesterday, and now graduation is just around the corner? It’s time to mark the occasion with your own yearbook ad. Here’s why it contains more value than you may realize…

If your child is graduating this year, congratulations. Have you thought about purchasing a parent ad in the school’s yearbook? You know, the kind of ad where parents send congratulatory messages to their kids (for all to see).

Beyond the immediate impact of the ad when your student opens the book for the first time, your ad will likely bring a smile to your child’s face for decades to come when that dusty book is revisited.

Our son will be graduating elementary school, and we just finished our online ad-generation project for his yearbook.

Unexpectedly, my experience completely changed my perspective on parent yearbook ads. I realized that what you include can really impact the ad’s enduring value into the future. Here’s how to tap into that opportunity.

A More Complete Story
School yearbooks cannot possibly capture the complete story of every student.

I remember as a kid looking through my yearbooks for the first time and sometimes being disappointed that I wasn’t being properly represented in the overall story of the school year. Translation: I felt there weren’t enough pictures of me.

Perhaps that says more about my personality than the visual balance of my yearbook, but there will be inevitable imbalance in any school yearbook.

Back then, in the predigital age, it felt like ads were mostly confined to small businesses. So parents couldn’t normally impact a yearbook’s content.

But with today’s easy-to-upload online ad creation tools, parent-generated ads can offer the huge opportunity to rebalance the equation.

And just as importantly, your ad is a place for your content to likely live through posterity. (Everyone generally holds onto his or her yearbook.)

Sponsored Content
Beyond the option to simply congratulate your kid, you can also think of your ad as a place to document a few highlights of your child’s accomplishments and journey.

You probably don’t want to overdo it by writing five hundred words in a full-page ad. But there’s a definite opportunity to include some details that the yearbook editors may miss or wouldn’t know.

A Time Capsule for a Few Photos
The photos you include are probably what your child will immediately appreciate the most, but these included pics are special for another reason. That’s because yearbooks are time capsules of a sort, as they’re more likely to survive over time.

Among the many thousands of photos you take of your children, the truth is only a small fraction of them will likely last into the future decades. That’s because it’s difficult to maintain an endlessly expanding digital database of thousands of family photos.

I understand that now, and our son is only ten years old.

You’ve got to ruthlessly choose just a few pics as the ones you want to endure into the distant future. Then, ensuring they’re printed into a book is a solid way to protect their ongoing existence. (How ironic.)

So think of these school yearbook photos as possibly the only images of your child (as a kid) that future generations will ever see. (No pressure.)

On the bright side, you can also create a larger lifeboat for more of your digital photos. Simply generate your own annual family photo books to document your children’s stories.

There’s Always Next Year
It’s become clear to me that parent ads can be so much more than simple congratulatory messages. These ads should do their part to help encapsulate your child’s school experience.

If you’re feeling deflated that you didn’t maximize the potential of your ad this year, or even worse… you didn’t create one, don’t despair.

You’ll get another chance next year.

It’s Time to Create the Next Chapter
Capturing your children’s stories through photos and the written form is a gift for posterity.

Think of each school yearbook ad that you create as the next chapter in your child’s story.

Enjoy it!

The Power of Anticipation

Though the effects of winter are still weighing heavy, I found spring at the base of the forest. 

I always look forward to snapping pictures of spring. There’s that special window of time when nature suddenly reemerges. The early colors. The bright greens. The young buds. It’s nature’s celebration of life returning to normal.

As I peer out of my home office window, we’re not quite there. Not yet. Sure, there have been several warm, sunny days in Fairfield County, CT. And there are some early signs of reawakening outside. Yes, spring is officially here, but nature has its own schedule.

If you think I’m drawing a parallel to our present pandemic existence, I am. Our lives are frozen in so many ways, but thankfully thawing with the rollout of vaccines. 

In Search of Life as We Know It

I headed out on a hike this past weekend to Collis  P. Huntington State Park in Redding, CT. I brought along a couple cameras with the intent to capture nature’s visual equivalence of our current state of anticipation.

As I took in the forested area, much was still in hibernation mode. But when I looked closely, the rebirth was already well underway. Not so much high up in the trees, but closer to ground. The foundations of the ecosystem was kicking into high gear.

These photos promote a near future when spring fully arrives.

I can’t wait.

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